What Your School Needs from Marketing When Enrollment is Full

Didn’t See that Coming

You don’t have to be a veteran of the independent school world to know that full enrollment is not the norm for most schools. Some private school leaders will go their entire career without telling a parent, “We’d love to have your family, but I’m sorry, but we’re just out of room.”

So when the stars align and there’s suddenly a waiting list in multiple grades — and precious few open seats in the others — Marketing and Admissions professionals can find themselves in unfamiliar territory.

It might sound something like this ...
Admissions yells down the hall to Marketing,
“Stop! Turn it off! It’s no fun telling families we don’t have room for them!”
Marketing yells back,
“What?!? Turn it off? Hey, this is a good problem! What if we have some seats open up? Let’s keep adding to our waiting lists!”
Head of School overhears the exchange.
“Waiting lists? Record enrollment? Roll in the modulars! Add new sections! And … excuse me while I make a phone call … (ring, ring …) Hey, Board Chair? It’s me, Head … about that new building I was talking about last spring …”
Okay, now what?

For an increasing number of schools, space is getting tight. Perhaps you can relate. So, what does your school need from marketing and admissions when enrollment is full? In this post we’ll explore 11 opportunities for Marketing and Admissions to make the most of full enrollment. Be advised, this is not a quick read. This is deep content that will take time to process. And, to be clear, you’re not going to be able to tackle all of these; that’s not the point. The point is to get real with your team about what you need to prioritize right now when enrollment is strong. Because if you prioritize even a few of these initiatives, your school will realize some impactful, long-term wins. Ready to get real?



Are you really full? Before you pause your paid search and paid social campaigns, take a look at your remaining open seats grade-by-grade. You may have more space than you thought in a particular Age-and-Stage®. If you have some openings you want to fill, optimize your website and digital strategies to reach qualified families in your updated target zones. Here’s what that could look like:

First, feature your openings on your website. Yes, I realize this might seem a bit unorthodox, but hang with me. There’s nothing like scarcity coupled with a deadline to make a thing more desirable. (Ever noticed how Amazon.com tells you how many items are “In stock” for an item you’ve checked out? Or how Hotels.com tells you “Only 3 rooms left at this rate”?) Post your openings for specific grade levels on the homepage of your site. Let prospective families know exactly how many seats you have open in each grade level. “But we’ve never done that before.” That’s okay. You don’t need to leave this information up year-round — just during peak season. “What about the grades that are full?” Encourage families to inquire anyway. You never know when a spot may open up. If you don’t have space this year, put them into your CRM and check back with them during your next enrollment season. They’ll appreciate the follow up. 

Second, dial in your digital strategies for the Ages-and-Stages® where you have openings. Modify your messaging and the demographic focus of your digital ads. These adjustments will keep you from getting slammed with inquiries for grades that are full. Boost posts on social media, pointing prospective families to your website to see current openings.

Whatever you do, don’t go dark with your online marketing. If you pull back completely on lead-generation ads, spin up a brand awareness campaign that features key tenants of your value proposition without pushing for a specific action. This is a true branding play that will reinforce your value proposition for current families and raise awareness among prospective future families.


Focus on retention

Unless their student is an incoming senior, most families don’t want to buy just one grade from you. They enroll with the intention to keep going, assuming the current grade goes well. But we can’t just presume they’re going to re-enroll. They’re still your customer, and they need to…

Download the Full Enrollment E-book

Discover 11 strategies to make the most of your school’s full enrollment, including ways to focus on retention, invest in SEO, and optimize your parent ambassador program.

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